When it Pays to Be Audacious and Just Ask

Many years ago my coauthor, Jerry Panas, was asked to organize the annual meeting for the chamber of commerce in Alliance, Ohio, where he once lived. He decided—rather ambitiously—to ask J.C. Penney to be the annual speaker. At the time, Penney—know as “Mr. Penney” to everyone—was one of the greatest merchants of the 20th century. It was like saying you’re going to invite Warren Buffet to address your local investor’s club.

Jerry was undeterred, however, and called Penney and actually got him on the phone. The conversation went like this:

“Mr. Penney, I just finished reading your book, Jottings from a Merchant. I was mesmerized. If I know anything about you, you would not take no for an answer before even asking. Am I right about that?”


“That’s what I thought. Mr. Penney, we are having an Annual Meeting of the Chamber of Commerce in Alliance, Ohio. You have a great store here on Main Street. We want you to be our speaker. You are our only choice. I’ll turn out the entire town for you.” Jerry’s voice was apparently confident, but inside he was shaking.

“I’d love to come,” he says. “When is it?”

Jerry did something very clever: He asked Penney a question whose answer made the CEO more receptive to Jerry’s request. The message was: Don’t say no before you hear me out and think it through–and by the way, I’m acting exactly as you would recommend, not to accept “no” before asking!

He also immediately connected with the great merchant around something of importance to him—his book.

Jerry subsequently built a lifelong relationship with J.C. Penney. He became the grandfather Jerry had never known. (Read the whole story in Chapter Two of Power Relationships, my newest book).

Celebrity, wealth, and power can present a seemingly unbridgeable divide between you and someone you’d like to meet. Make the first move. And then, cultivate the relationship over many years.

Who would you like to connect with? A well-known entrepreneur? A thought leader in your field? A CEO? Be bold. Make a list. There are many ways of getting in touch. There are some CEOs who will immediately answer their email. Try the phone.

Don’t give up just because you’ve been turned down. Successful people usually admire persistence. You might get a “yes” on the third try.

Don’t go too far and pester or annoy people. If multiple attempts haven’t worked, take a break! If you connect, mention something that you know is important to the other person—perhaps something they wrote or an accomplishment they are proud of.

It’s great when you can get a warm introduction. But sometimes you just have to be audacious and ask.

Have you been able to connect with a top executive or influential person you didn’t know? What worked for you?  Leave a comment, below.

My new book has just been published. Click here to get a copy of Power Relationships now on Amazon.com, and you can then download the 90-page Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide I wrote for my readers for free.

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